“Trying to live up to everyone’s expectations is like trying to cup the ocean in your hands. Impossible much?” ~ Anonymous
“I don’t do anything for myself. Everything I do is for others.”
This is by far the most toxic statement that I have come across in my personal and professional life, and I must admit that I am guilty of using this statement and living with this idea—that the only way we can be seen as someone who is worthy is by doing things for others.
It’s toxic because we’re not building our life. We’re building a throne of misery and resentment for ourselves, expecting that once we’ve finally sat our ass down on that throne, people will finally see and appreciate all the sacrifices that we’ve made for them. They will shower us with all the appreciation, validation, and gratitude that they possibly can and will feel forever indebted to us for doing things for them.
This idea, my friend, is crap. It only leads us down a deep, dark rabbit hole that we might never escape simply because when our life revolves around others, it slowly begins to kill off parts of ourselves. And it’s not a conscious choice, by the way. Most of the time, it stems from a state of desperation and a plethora of unfulfilled needs.
We get so caught up in the act of “giving” because behind every such act, there is a deep void that we think might be filled with love, appreciation, validation, and acceptance. We don’t even realise that the void has become so huge that we begin to feel like it’s going to take over us.
We reach a point where we might start to feel bitter, angry, and resentful every time we do something for someone, and when it goes unacknowledged, it makes the void even more prominent until we start losing our mind.
Then we have these questions running through our minds the whole time, “Do they not see what I’m doing for them? Am I not human? What do I have to keep doing in order to get them to love and accept me?”
This, again, sets off the cycle of us feeling angry and bitter toward ourselves and the people around us.
That’s why trying to keep people happy all the time or doing things to please them is a crappy way of living life.
It makes us slaves of others’ wishes and desires and strips us off of our own personal power.
“You are not required to set yourself up on fire to keep others warm.” ~ Anonymous
And when I tell my clients this, the next question they ask is, “Okay, so what do I do?”
This is a loaded question.
“People pleasers often start off as parent pleasers.” ~ Alexandra D Amor
It’s loaded with years of conditioning that make us believe that the only way we can be considered as acceptable or worthy is by meeting others’ standards, keeping them happy, complying with every demand, every request, and being the bigger person, even if it’s killing our soul and destroying our life vision.
Oh, wait! You’re only supposed to meet standards, criteria, and expectations, right? Well, that sucks the joy out of life and leaves us feeling empty and hollow from within.
It’s loaded with the fact that at the end of the day, we don’t know how to take ownership of our lives because we’ve always believed that it’s not ours.
It’s loaded with the vacuum that we carry. That deep, empty, lonely space where we feel no one understands us and where we’ve lost touch with ourselves. In fact, we’ve never been attuned to ourselves because we’ve been too busy playing the quintessential, “good” person who’s always there, doesn’t say no, does whatever is asked of them, never gets into any conflict, and gives up their own needs and desires.
It’s loaded with the fear that if we were to let go of this way of being, we wouldn’t know who else to be because this is all we’ve ever known.
Hence, we don’t know what “to live” even means. We only know how to exist, to survive.
The answer to the question “What do I do?” isn’t simple and straightforward because it’s not about doing. It’s more about undertaking a journey where we disconnect ourselves from the idea of “doing” and move to “being”—who we are, who we want to be.
It’s about learning to make a home within ourselves—understanding, accepting, and loving ourselves for who we are irrespective of what we do or don’t do.
It’s about understanding and believing that we are valuable because we exist, and that in itself is enough.
Sadly, most of us don’t even realise that we are people pleasers, i.e. engaged in a constant endeavor to please others for our sense of safety, security, and belonging.
In essence, people pleasing is a coping strategy that we end up adopting—knowingly and unknowingly—because we’ve realized at an early age that this is the only way to get the approval of the world around us. The more we do things that make us “look good” in the eyes of others (especially our caretakers), the safer and accepted we feel. And every time we do something that doesn’t meet the world’s standards, we might be met with consequences that are unpleasant. This is how we’ve been conditioned to survive.
For so many of us, life just ends up being about others, and we make ourselves believe that it’s ours. It’s not.
“Your life isn’t yours if you always care about what others think.” ~ Anonymous
And when it’s time to change, we find ourselves wondering what to do because pleasing other people is what we’ve known the whole time.
So, let’s begin by understanding what might make anyone a people pleaser. Here are some signs to watch out for:
1. You need people to like you because if they don’t, it might make you unacceptable and left alone.
2. You struggle with your self-esteem and need constant validation from people because you are constantly doubting yourself.
3. You can’t say no. You’re afraid of offending people or displeasing them for the fear that it will make you unacceptable.
4. You avoid conflicts because you don’t want to stir the pot. You want to feel safe and keep people happy; not voicing you needs and concerns keeps you safe.
5. You apologize way too much because you’re too afraid of offending or causing discomfort to anyone.
6. You are in the midst of an identity crisis all the time. You don’t trust your opinions, you don’t recognize your own emotions, needs, desires, and life choices. “Who am I?” is the question that’s always haunting you.
6. You think it’s your responsibility to make all the sacrifices; it leaves you burdened and drained all the time.
7. You have no time for yourself because you’re too busy being there for everyone else.
8. You feel taken for granted.
9. You’re often filled with bitterness, anger, and resentment.
It’s important to understand that people don’t become people pleasers overnight. It’s how they’ve learnt to cope with an environment that never really accepted, valued, or appreciated them for who they truly are.
When we realise that this way of coping is not working for us anymore—that it’s taking away from us more than we realize—it’s time to find our way back to our own selves.
It’s time to focus attention on just one person: you.
You need to start doing things that please you and enable you to be who you are and who you want to be.
Give yourself the time and space you need to come home to yourself because that’s where you live.
And when you’ve truly come home to yourself, then whatever you decide to give to the world will fill you up with all the love, acceptance, and respect that you’ve always deserved. The only difference is be that you will not be craving for it anymore. You would have filled yourself up with your own love by then.
So come home to your own self, my friend.